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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Panic in middle of the night



I awoke sweaty with my heart pounding. It felt like an irregular thumpty-thump-thump. Maybe I was having a heart attack. But I sure couldn’t afford to be having one.

That day I had gotten a refund of my health insurance premium in the mail. With no explanation other than “refund”. I wondered about the check and why I would be getting a refund. Then after I went to bed the panic started to set in.

I tried to ignore the thoughts. Perhaps I’d failed to properly register for my health insurance plan during the “open season”. Perhaps I had been disqualified for some reason I had yet to fathom. Perhaps this was the end of my happy retirement and life as I knew it.

I’d been able to retire a few years before I reached the age for Medicare eligibility because I had qualified for an early retirement package that included health insurance from my long-term employer. I had a number of health issues, some of which were problems that required surgery. With these pre-existing conditions I would never qualify for private insurance.

Even though my policy was a high deductible and cost me substantial monthly premiums, I was very happy to have it. The health insurance policy stood between me and being destitute in the event of a medical emergency. I know how health costs add up. Last year I had reached my high deductible limits by December. This year I’ve already met the deductible in February.  I didn’t think it was possible but maybe they had found a way to drop me because our medical bills were too costly.

After I had retired, originally I had paid my premium by deduction from my very small pension. But without fail, at the start of each year the pension people did not communicate with the health insurance people and the payments were not withheld. Then I would get a nastygram saying my insurance would be cancelled if payment were not immediately received.

The nice service reps who took my panicked calls always reassured me my insurance would not really be cancelled. That was just what the notices said.

But I still did not like the panic that went with receiving a nastygram. So I signed up to pay by monthly withdrawals from my bank account.  I did not want to inadvertently miss a payment and receive one of those nastygrams and maybe have the insurance actually cancelled. After all, just because someone told me on the phone “not to worry” did that mean I had no reason to worry?

But this refund was a new reason to panic. By the time I received the mail that included the refund check it was late in the day and the benefit office was closed. So I could not call and get some nice lady to tell me not to worry.  And for some reason or other, the health insurance web site also was not working. Or maybe it was just me and I did not have insurance any more and that was why I could not sign in to check my insurance status and try to find out why they had sent me the check. If one is a little paranoid and subject to panic one does not necessarily need a lot of reason to reach for the panic button.

 The night dragged on and it was a long time before the sun came up. But finally, the benefit call lines were open. I called. The service rep had no idea why I had gotten the refund check. But she would find out and call me back in a day or two. She told me not to cash the check. It probably was some mistake. But yes, my health insurance was still in effect. And there was no problem with my enrollment during the last “open season”.

I’m still holding the check. Still waiting for a call back from the benefit office to explain what’s up with the refund. But I was at least very happy the nice lady had reassured me on the phone.

I’m left with another reason to not panic besides the reassurance from a voice on the telephone. Thank goodness for the Affordable Health Care Act or Obamacare as it’s critics like to call it. And also for Medicare. One of the entitlement programs the far right likes to criticize and wants to cut.  Even though I don’t yet qualify for the latter. And the former’s guarantee of health care insurance without regard to pre-existing conditions does not go into effect until next year. The nightmare that I was envisioning in the middle of the night we as Americans will no longer need to fear. When everyone will have the right to buy health insurance and not need to panic in the middle of the night. At least about paying for health insurance. At least for now.

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